Jupiter, Fla. — Some random observations from Tigers camp:
For a couple of days, a week or so ago, former Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers gathered up the club’s left-handed pitchers and took them out to one of the vacant back fields at Tigertown.
It was a seminar in the art of the pick-off move and Kyle Ryan, Matt Boyd, Daniel Norris, Blaine Hardy and Justin Wilson were taught by a master.
“I can’t speak for the other guys,” Boyd said, “but I think all of our moves got better because of Kenny.”
Ryan, Boyd and Hardy seem especially to have taken to Rogers’ methods. They have adopted both a near-balk leg kick and the step-back move. Ryan and Hardy have each been called for a balk once, but the move has been mostly effective thus far this spring.
“Kenny was a big help,” Boyd said. “We got to pick his brain and it was awesome. I’ve always had a really good move. I used to pick off a bunch of guys every year but last year I didn’t pick off anybody.
“Kenny helped me make an adjustment to something that I’d gone away from and gave me some new ideas. He was one of the best at it, and what’s cool is he also gave us ideas from Andy Pettitte who he know really well.”
Pettitte (98) and Rogers (79) picked off 177 runners between them in their careers. Both perfected the art of pushing their move right to the edge of a balk. They could start their leg kick toward the plate, then open their hips and flip the ball to first base. Rarely did they cross the line to where the move was illegal.
“I had a pretty good move in the minor leagues and Kenny worked with me there, too,” Ryan said. “I also had a left-handed pitcher coaching me in high school – Dennis Chastain. Having a lefty pitcher coach you in high school, especially one who’d played and knew the dos and don’ts and probably wishes he knew that stuff when he was my age – I had it pretty good.
“Then here I’ve had Kenny Rogers and Mike Maroth who know a lot. It’s been real good for me.”
What Rogers is doing for the lefties, Kirk Gibson is doing for some of the base runners.
One of Gibson’s most attentive pupils this spring has been shortstop Jose Iglesias — a player with good speed but until now some underdeveloped base running instincts and techniques.
“He’s definitely been working on his jumps and base running,” manager Brad Ausmus said of Iglesias. “Everyone wants to equate base running with stolen bases but there is a lot more to it. But Iggy has definitely applied some of the stuff Kirk Gibson spoke to him about.”
Ausmus said it was more about the mechanics of running, how to get a better jump and taking a more direct route to the base. Iglesias has stolen four bases in four attempts, including one off pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina on Friday.
The difference, clearly, is the jumps he’s getting off first. Gibson has him in a more athletic stance once he establishes his lead. His arms are in a runner’s position – kind of like middle distance runners are at the start of a race. Last year, his arms were down and he was more upright after he took his lead.
Iglesias, who is hitting .387 with a .957 OPS this spring, has also gone first to third three times on singles to right field or right center.
Speaking of Ryan, he’s making it very hard on the Tigers to cut him.
“He’s been one of the better (pitchers), for sure,” Ausmus said. “He’s pitched very well. His stuff isn’t vastly different. Pitching out of the bullpen he’s throwing harder. But his biggest problem has been throwing strikes at time because he’s got a lot of movement and sometimes it’s hard to command that movement.”
That has not been an issue this spring. He’s pitched seven innings in six outings – allowing three hits, one run (a home run), with seven strikeouts and just one walk. Opponents are hitting .125 and his WHIP is 0.57.
Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Blaine Hardy seem to have bullpen spots locked up. That leaves three spots, two if right-hander Alex Wilson can get healthy. So Ryan is competing with Drew VerHagen, Bruce Rondon and possibly Shane Greene and Buck Farmer for two or three spots.
Because of a couple off days early in the season, plus the uncertainty over with the health of starter Anibal Sanchez, the Tigers could keep an extra reliever on the roster to start the season. Those decisions won’t be made for another two weeks.
There have been a lot of eyes (within the organization and outside the organization) on right-hander Bobby Parnell, who the Tigers signed to a minor league deal early in camp.
The former closer for the Mets who once threw a 100-mph heater, has gotten stronger with each outing. His velocity on Friday reached the mid-90s for the first time and he seemed to have better command.
He’s pitched 6.1 innings in six outings. He’s given up two runs and seven hits and opponents are hitting .318 against him. He’s walked five and struck out five.
It doesn’t seem likely that he will make the 25-man roster out of camp, but the fact he continues to get stronger and add zip to the fastball makes him intriguing – both for the Tigers to keep him in the system and for other teams who may not have as much pitching depth as the Tigers do right now.
I asked Miguel Cabrera what the team learned from last season.
“Don’t be hurt,” he said.